Depending on how you define the term, Resurrection Band was arguably the first Christian heavy metal band. While their debut album was released in 1978, their earliest demo recordings date back to as early as 1973. While many fans and critics will argue, “they’re not heavy metal, just hard rock,” this outlook unfortunately judges the past by current standards. Metal has moved on and splintered into a hundred different and more extreme subgenres. However, in the 1970s, their brand of bluesy hard rock would definitely have been considered heavy metal at the time–just as bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith, Kiss and others were.
Aside from being musical pioneers, Resurrection Band (alternately Rez Band or simply Rez) also served as pioneers lyrically. Members of the band all lived communally in the sometimes controversial, but always interesting Jesus People USA (or JPUSA for short). The organization sponsored the famed Cornerstone Festival, as well as Cornerstone Magazine, Grrr Records, and Belly Acres (to name but a few). While it is not our purpose here to talk about the merits or dangers of communal living, one thing that has always stood out about the Resurrection Band was how they wove an evangelical Christian (possibly even Charismatic) faith outlook into songs about justice issues–looking after the poor, the wrongly accused, the oppressed, and so forth. In other words, they had a truly biblical outlook.
While examples of this lyrical emphasis abound, it’s hard to do better than “Beggar in the Alleyway,” from their classic 1980 LP Colours. The track tells the story of a homeless man looking for companionship, but who ultimately finds redemption. While this may sound dreadfully cliché, it also interweaves a sort of existential encounter with meaning and reality, turning the whole song into a metaphor about conversion. This wouldn’t be their first song dealing with intense topics, particularly those regarding ‘the least of these,’ but it’s certainly one of their strongest.
In fact, the album itself is probably the band’s strongest effort overall, which is saying a lot considering the duration of the band’s existence as well as how prolific they were, especially in the 1980s. In fact, I would argue it’s one of the strongest Christian heavy metal or hard rock albums in existence.